Having read a few books over the last month or so, I fancied a change. No big twists, post-apocalyptic worlds, or for that matter, humans (which would, I suppose, take care of the apocalyptic worlds!). I recalled some of the books I read in school, amongst them The Mayor of Casterbridge, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies and The Call of the Wild. Unlike the other books I’d read at school I couldn’t remember anything about The Call of the Wild. I knew the protagonist was a dog and that the book is well thought of. That was good enough for me to return to the wild.
COTW, written by Jack London and published in 1903, is set in Canada during the Klondike gold rush at the end of the 19th century. Our hero is Buck, a St.Bernard-Scotch Shepherd. We follow Buck’s journey from a comfortable life with Judge Miller to his life as sled dog, hauling mail in perishing conditions to gold diggers in the Yukon. We meet a number of characters along the way, human and canine, both good and bad, all of whom play a role in Buck’s journey back to the wild. I won’t say much more about it other than COTW is a fine read which moves along at a good pace, and has a great central character in the form of Buck whom London really brings to life and grows on you throughout. Definitely recommended.
The ‘few books’ I mentioned at the outset included The Outsider (sometimes called The Stranger) by Albert Camus, Black Water Rising by Attica Locke and The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer. The classic amongst these, The Outsider, published in 1942, is actually the inspiration for The Cure’s own classic, Killing an Arab. Simply, the plot revolves around Meursault, who appears to be indifferent to both the death of his mother and his killing of an Arab man who’d harassed his friend, thereby seemingly condemning him to a possible death at the hands of the court. The book is an example of so-called absurdism: the conflict between the human tendency to seek meaning in life and the inability to find it. Having seen this book on a number of classic lists, I was almost put off by the references to absurdism but was glad I took the plunge. It’s a well told, short story which wasn’t the philosophical text I was expecting. Recommended.
Black Water Rising is a 2009 thriller set in 1980’s Houston. Our protagonist is Jay Porter, a black lawyer with a young family, who gets caught up in the nefarious dealings of one of Houston’s major oil firms (hence ‘black water’). Porter’s activist past catches up with him (doesn’t it always in thrillers?) as he finds himself in the middle of a dockers’ strike, mayoral politics, and to cap it all, a murder. Locke does a nice job in weaving these strands together and Porter is your typical down-at-heel, flawed but likeable hero. The book has picked up a number of awards and has spawned a follow-up, Pleasantville, featuring Jay Porter and set 15 years after the events in Black Water Rising. It’s not the finest book I’ve read but I liked it enough to want to read more, which is a recommendation in itself.
Last but not least is The Shock of the Fall (2013) by Nathan Filer. The novel describes, in the first-person, the life of Matt Homes, a teenager suffering from schizophrenia and delusions, driven by the death of his older brother which he feels responsible for. The book sounds heavier than it is. It is in fact a warm, witty and well-written book packed with interesting characters and observations. Recommended.
Inspired by Buck, I’m presently reading The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon. I’ll let you know how I get on.